Preserved Lemons — Hit the High Notes


Lemons — they add a bright, resonating, high note to almost any dish. But if you’ve ever experienced the complex mojo of preserved lemons, you know they deliver even more of that acidic satisfaction. Along with an added jolt of earthy overtones. You might say, they’re operatic.

Well, lucky me! Last week there were still lots of lemons clinging to the twisted branches of the aging but prolific lemon tree on my property. Enough to make a big batch of preserved lemons. So that’s what I did.

Basically, all you need for the project is kosher salt and lemons. (And, if you have one, an electric juicer.) You should definetely give it a try.

Not only is it incredibly easy to do, it’s really rewarding. Once made, preserved lemons can be stored in the fridge for up to a year. Yes, a year! And the over-the-top flavor boost they give food is seriously memorable.

According to San Francisco, Michelin-starred Chef Mourad Lahlou, preserved lemons are Morocco’s greatest culinary contribution to the world — and an irreplaceable component in the country’s salads, stews, soups, tangines, marinades and sauces. But you don’t have to limit yourself to Morraccan cuisine. Just think of preserved lemons as a killer seasoning.

I like to use them, along with some red pepper flakes, in a lemon-olive oil vinaigrette to top grilled fish, chicken and lamb. Or to add interest to sauteed greens, roasted eggplant, smashed potatoes, and spiced rice.

You can also sneak bits of preserved lemon into most savory dishes to heighten and brighten their already existing flavors. In fact, lots of professional chefs are doing that these days. Now, you can do it too.

Preserved Lemons

Here’s all you need to make a one quart batch:

About 6 lemons for preserving
About 6 more lemons for 2 cups of juice
About 3/4 cup kosher salt

1-quart canning jar with a clamp-on glass lid and rubber gasket

The Process:

Sterilize the jar in boiling water. Or run it through the dishwasher on the hottest setting. Make sure it’s completely dry before you use it.

Next scrub the lemons under cold running water. Dry them thoroughly.

Stand a lemon on the stem end and slice down into it as if you were going to cut it in half — only stop about a 1/2 inch from the bottom. Now make a perpendicular cut, again stopping shy of the bottom in the same way, so that the lemon is basically quartered but still holding together.

Add the salt to a large bowl, hold the lemon over the bowl and pack as much salt into it as possible. Put the lemon in the jar, cut side up, and repeat until the jar is filled. Clamp the lid and leave the jar sit over night.

The next day, the lemons will have softened a bit and you might be able to add another lemon to the jar. If that’s the case, use a clean spoon to press down all the lemons before you add an additional piece of citrus.

Now squeeze some lemons to end up with about 2 cups of juice. Or enough to cover the lemons in the jar. Fill it to the brim, clamp the lid closed and put the jar in a dark spot, like a kitchen cabinet or pantry.

For the next week, turn and shake the jar once a day. Add more juice if the lemons are no longer submerged. And that’s basically it.

Well, you do have to be patient and wait. But for only a month.

Once they’re ready, that’s when the excitment begins. To use your new seasoning, cut a preserved lemon in quarters and then scrape the pulp away from the rind. It’s the softened rind you’ll be using, not the pulp.

When I first used it, I simply diced the rind and sprinkled it into a vinaigrette of equal parts lemon juice and olive oil with a hit of red pepper flakes. That’s a good place to start. After that — just experiment.